Viral Posts on Blogger’s Killing Face Criticism

Viral Posts on Blogger's Killing Face Criticism

  • TikTok users have been posting about Gabby Petito’s disappearance with updates and theories.
  • The FBI confirmed that Petito’s remains had been found in Wyoming. 
  • Some critics believe that the TikTok enthusiasm surrounding Petito’s disappearance may not have been helpful.

The disappearance of Gabrielle Petito, a 22-year-old who went missing while documenting her #vanlife journey alongside her fiancé Brian Laundrie, has captivated the nation for a week straight.

TikTok users’ obsession with the case, which has yielded everything from regular case updates to analyses of her Spotify playlists, is part of what’s turned Petito’s disappearance into a “national sensation,” as The New York Times reported.

Petito disappeared on September 11, according to her mother. She last spoke with Petito in August. Laundrie refused to cooperate with the investigation prior to going missing from his family’s Florida home on September 14, police told CNN.

The FBI confirmed Tuesday that Petito was the owner of remains discovered in Bridger-Teton National Forest Wyoming. The coroner’s “initial determination for the manner of death is homicide,” the department said in a statement.

Discussions surrounding Petito’s disappearance have exploded on social media and TikTok, especially since the news broke. In the process, the #gabbypetito hashtag has amassed over 820 million views. The platform has also been abuzz with speculation about Petito’s disappearance, her death, as well as who might have been involved.

Insider spoke with TikTokers about their posts regarding Petito’s case. They stated that the goal of their posts was to raise awareness for Petito’s disappearance in support of her family.

However, there has been criticism about some TikTok activity surrounding the case. This includes concerns about spreading misinformation.

Interest in Petito’s case grew on TikTok in the week leading up to authorities finding her body

Many of the viral videos in the #gabbypetito hashtag on TikTok were posted from Friday, September 17 onward, but the case began to go viral earlier in the week, around September 14.

Paris Campbell (@stopitparis), a New York City-based comedian and writer, told Insider that she was one of the creators to post about Petito’s disappearance early on, noting that there were only a few videos in the #gabbypetito hashtag when she uploaded a September 14 video sharing Petito’s missing-person poster.

“If this happened to me, if I was looking for my daughter, I would be devastated,” Insider heard Campbell tell Insider that she was motivated to post because of her new role as a mother. 

Campbell posted more than 40 videos on Petito’s case since then. She told Insider that she did this by collating information previously reported by the news media.

“My intention behind all of it has just been to spread information and try to contribute to helping find Gabby,” Campbell spoke to Insider. 

Campbell also said that other videos had reportedly provided new information. The most-liked video in the #gabbypetito hashtag is from Miranda Baker, who claimed that she picked up Brian Laundrie, Petito’s fiancé, up in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, on August 29. North Port police in Florida told Fox News that they spoke to Baker regarding the video she posted. 

Some have criticized the TikTokers covering Petito’s case, saying they ‘capitalized’ on her death

The obsession with Petito’s disappearance led to a debate about how much creators, including some who gravitate towards true crime content or have posted frequently about Petito’s case, had helped advance the investigation, as reported by BuzzFeed News. But it has also led to discussions over whether the content is insensitive.

People have also suggested the fervor around Petito reflects a bias towards missing white women as opposed to missing people from marginalized communities, such as Indigenous people, whose cases don’t receive the same attention. 

Jordan Wildon, a digital investigator who tracks online misinformation and disinformation, tweeted that “posting every little detail” of a case without verification can be counterproductive, and in some cases, harmful.

Abbie Richards, a researcher and TikToker who studies misinformation and disinformation on TikTok, told The Washington Post that she was critical of those “capitalizing” on content regarding minute details of Petito’s life. 

Some have also raised concerns referencing previous incidents in which online sleuthing has led to harm, like when a missing student falsely accused of being a suspect in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing was later found dead.

Content creators defend their choice to cover Petito’s case despite the criticism

One creator who posted about Petito’s case, Liz Cooper (@literallylizzi), did so while applying makeup, a common YouTube trend. Although these videos combine makeup with true crime are very popular, some have been criticized for being disrespectful and insensitive.

Cooper, who posts about other missing persons cases, said in an interview to Insider that makeup was a strategy for TikTok to get more views and help people learn more information about Petito and similar cases. 

“If you start a video showing what you are doing — i.e. a makeup look — individuals will stick around until the end to see the final product,” Cooper stated to Insider that she attempts to reach out the victim’s family or to someone who is close to the victim or the family. “People commenting on a video asking about products also builds video interaction. This spreads the video further in the TikTok algorithm and allows more people to see this message.” 

Ryan Luna (@doctor.ryan), who has 1 million followers on TikTok and recently graduated from medical school, has been posting updates on Petito’s case since Friday and conducted an interview with Petito’s brother and godmother live on TikTok.  Some videos have speculation about the case. After making an error in a TikTok video about Petito Laundrie details, Luna corrected it in a second video before eventually deleting both. 

“I understand the impact that receiving millions of views has and do not want to report inaccurate information,” Luna told Insider. 

Luna said that he and other TikTokers, who posted about Petito, weren’t trying take credit for solving it. He also added that he hopes to increase awareness and help the Family. 

“All I know is that we need to carry this energy and be enthusiastic for telling stories for missing people from all walks of life, like minorities who do not always receive the same amount of attention as people like Gabby,” Insider heard from him. 

You can read more stories from Insider’s Digital Culture desk.

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